There’s an abundance of healthy super foods for kids during the summer, and while it may be a great opportunity to get your kids out of their picky eating habits and transform them into super-healthy kids, studies show summer may actually be the worst time of year to make that a reality.
According to a July 2015 study in the American Journal of Public Health, body mass index (BMI) for kindergarteners and first graders increased two to three times as fast during the summer than the school year.
More opportunities for grab-and-go foods at the pool, the boardwalk and the carnival, trips to the ice cream shop, longer, less structured days, and more time spent on devices are likely culprits.
If you plan ahead, make some simple swaps and use a few easy strategies however, your family can stay on track.
Here are 5 of my best healthy summer eating tips for kids.
1. Avoid sugary drinks
Long, hot summer days mean your kids will be drinking more fluids anyway, but what they drink is important.
According to a 2015 poll by the YMCA, about 75 percent of kids drink sugar-sweetened beverages at least weekly during the summer, and about 25 percent kids consume one or more sweetened beverages every day or almost every day.
Instead of soda, juice, sugar-sweetened beverages like lemonade, ice tea and sports drinks which are high in empty calories and sugar, spike blood sugar and may encourage cravings for other sugary fare, stick with plan H2O.
Since dehydration can often be mistaken for hunger—which is one of the reasons your kid is always hungry—it’s even more important that they make a point to drink plenty of water.
Encourage your kids to drink water first thing in the morning, when they’re most likely to be dehydrated, sip throughout the day and before meals.
If water is too plain for them, add cut up cucumbers or strawberries for some flavor.
2. Take advantage of grilling season
When you grill up your hamburgers, chicken or fish, add zucchini, yellow squash, asparagus, onions and peppers which your kids may be more willing to eat because it’s simply a different way to serve them.
Or put out several types of vegetables and let them make their own vegetable kabobs to grill.
When kids have a hand in making a meal, they’ll be more likely to eat it.
You can also grill fruit like peaches, pineapples and melon which make for a healthy dessert.
3. Stick to a schedule
If your kids aren’t in camp and there’s no set schedule to your days, there may also be less consistency when it comes to regular meals.
Your kids might skip meals, eat meals at different times each day and ask for snacks—all habits that can lead to overeating and weight gain.
Although vacations or day trips can definitely throw off your schedule, one of the best summer healthy eating tips is to do your best to have regular meal and snack times, make sure your kids eat a healthy breakfast, and try to prevent grazing and mindless snacking.
4. Use your cutting board
During the summer, kids eat more vegetables, but they still don’t eat enough, the same YMCA poll found.
Kids need 2 to 3 servings of vegetables each day, but the serving sizes vary by age.
Check out this chart from the American Academy of Pediatrics to see portion sizes for your kid.
Do your best to include vegetables at every meal and snack, which will give your kids the nutrition they need, help satisfy their hunger, prevent overeating, and cure constipation.
The good news is that you don’t have to turn on the oven or spend too much time preparing them.
Kids love bite-sized and finger foods, so cut up raw vegetables like celery, cucumbers, and bell peppers to add to meals or serve as a snack with a healthy dip.
5. Put healthy food at eye level
According to the 2010 White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity report, “children’s choices depend on what is most visible and easily accessible.”
So resist the urge to stock your pantry with chips, crackers and cookies and other types of fake food and put healthy food at eye level.
Spend 30 minutes or so on the weekend to wash and cut up fruits and vegetables and store them in clear glass containers front and center in the refrigerator.
Make individual portions of smoothie ingredients or set aside portions of nuts, seeds and dried fruit that are easy to grab, especially when you’re on the go.
6. Get kids in the kitchen
With more time to spend together, the summer is an ideal time to get kids in the kitchen, which encourages them to eat healthy because they feel empowered to do so.
Read: 5 Surprising Benefits of Cooking With Kid
Get your kids a set of kid-friendly knives and a chopping board and show them how to wash, prep and chop fruits and veggies.
Or make a salad together using my favorite chopping bowl.
If you’re not the greatest home chef or could simply use some pointers, I recommend you take my friend Katie Kimball’s Kids Cook Real Food online video eCourse. Check out her video: